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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5195


Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (17:36): We just heard some comments about mental health. These appropriation bills before the House certainly deal with mental health. Record numbers of Australians are receiving mental health treatment, according to an evaluation released today. There are certainly still some groups who are not accessing the services that they need, so there is more work to do. While treatment rates for people with mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression have improved from 35 per cent in 2007 to an estimated 46 per cent in 2010, many young people, men, people living in rural and remote areas and people in areas of high socioeconomic disadvantage are still missing out.

The honourable member for Dawson says that his seat is missing out on headspace services and other things. Maybe it is him; maybe he is not working hard enough to generate the activity needed to get those resources in his area, or maybe he cannot put the figures together. I do not know. But people with mental health issues are entitled to services and this government has put money into this budget to deliver those services. Let's not talk about dogs and fleas; let's talk about what is happening. What are the opposition proposing? They have not produced a budget; they have just ranted and raved. The shadow Treasurer has failed to produce an alternative budget—once in the House and once at the Press Club. They just will not say what they would do to spend budgetary moneys.

An evaluation of the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the Medicare Benefits Schedule initiative was released today by the minister. Better Access provides Medicare rebates for mental health services. The evaluation was commissioned by the Department of Health and Ageing in 2008 and was overseen by experts in the mental health and research fields. The evaluation found that from 2007 to 2009 over two million people received more than 11.1 million individual mental health services. Around half of all Better Access consumers may be new not only to Better Access but to mental health care more generally.

The initiative provided value for money for those it reached and consumers experienced clinically significant reductions in levels of psychological stress and severe symptoms upon completing the treatment. Investment in Better Access has been $1.45 billion from 2006-07 to 2009-10. The evaluation findings are encouraging, especially on access and improvements in treatment rates for common mental disorders. They also point to some areas of particular concern that echoes the feedback received from the mental health forums held late last year. We still need to do more for those people who are continuing to miss out on much needed mental health care—men, young people and those people living in rural and remote areas, as the member for Dawson would know; as well as those in areas of low socioeconomic disadvantage. These people stand out in all the statistics I see and I am sure that you also see, Madam Deputy Speaker.

It is also vital that we focus our efforts on getting the right care to the most vulnerable in our society, including those at greatest risk of suicide—young people, Indigenous Australians and those with severe and persistent conditions. The outlines in the budget certainly go in that direction. Mental health reform is a key priority of this Labor government in its second term. This is why the Prime Minister has asked the minister to establish an expert advisory group on mental health. The group has already started to provide ideas for real improvement in mental health services that are achievable and make best possible use of the government's resources.

The Better Access evaluation is important to help inform the government's reform efforts and to ensure the balance of services across the spectrum of mental illness. The Gillard government is committed through its reform efforts to ensure that mental health services are coordinated, cost efficient and fundamentally targeted to those people most in need.

In addition to Better Access, the government is investing $120.7 million between 2010 and 2014 in the Access to Allied Psychological Services, ATAPS, program, which delivers psychological services at low or no cost to patients and targets hard-to-reach groups. The government is also investing $64.2 million between 2010 and 2014 in mental health services in rural and remote areas under the Mental Health Services in Rural and Remote Areas program.

There is also a program—the government's flexible care packages—for people with severe mental illness or illnesses. In the 2010-11 budget, $58.5 million was allocated in funding for flexible care packages to provide clinical and case coordination services to better support people with severe mental illness in the community, delivered through Medicare Locals. These are all new initiatives in this budget. Clinical services include psychological therapy provided by specially trained providers such as psychologists and social workers, who will be encouraged to link patients to other services in the community for people with severe illness. Flexible care packages will allow Medicare Locals to purchase the services people with a severe mental illness need to keep them well in the community and out of hospital. Consultations across the nation, including in regional areas, have been conducted on the design and implementation of these flexible care packages. More than 70 written submissions were received. These consultations have shown that there is strong support for the implementation of the flexible care packages, including from GPs, who are central to supporting and finding referral pathways to other services for their patients with a severe mental illness. There is also a desire to see them implemented in a considered and staged way, with a clear and consistent process to ensure appropriate targeting to people with severe illness and with support for a development phase to enable essential service links and quality assurance to be arranged at a local level, before services start to roll out.

The government has listened to the sector and based on the feedback received will implement the flexible care packages in a staged approach to coincide with the establishment of the first 15 Medicare Locals. From now until 1 July clinical governance, service delivery and quality assurance issues will be determined in consultation with relevant stakeholders. From 1 July, the first 15 Medicare Locals will become eligible for funding to provide additional services to consumers through flexible care packages. Work will also be done to ensure Medicare Locals are provided with funding for development and planning, before service delivery starts.

The roll-out of these flexible care packages demonstrates the government's commitment to ongoing mental health reform. The government will continue to work with the sector to deliver mental health reform and ensure the best delivery of services for people with a severe mental illness.

Many people will remember the service in my electorate of Lyons, Rural Alive and Well, which was set up during the terrible drought times to try and bring back some hope to many farmers who were in despair of losing their animals and their properties. This too falls into the area of mental health. These community-developed programs are vital for keeping an eye on the mental health of our farmers and rural workers, and make up the many approaches to deal with mental health problems that have emerged in recent years. There is a community-based approach, and this is taking place in areas such as forestry in Tasmania, with a lot of contractors and forest workers being laid off. There is a person dealing with those issues using a community-based approach, referring the people concerned to professional assistance if that is needed.

Mental health issues have offered a real challenge to many ordinary health services. I am sure there are many other instances around Australia where mental health have been put into the too-hard basket. It with a great relief that I see that the budget has been able to provide a priority weighting to mental health issues. This will allow the local health services to provide primary services that have links to referral services for those who have been touched with a mental illness. It gives me great joy to see so much emphasis being put on mental health in this most recent budget.

I would also like to touch on education. I continue to have the honour of opening BER projects in my electorate. I opened one on Friday in the historical township of Evandale. If you have flown into Launceston Airport, Evandale is the village at the end of the runway. It has spent, very well, a lot of money to improve the school, renewing the school hall and making it larger. Many classrooms and playground areas have been improved as well. I was at the opening at Oatlands District High School the week before that. The principal of Oatlands high school described the money that came through from the Commonwealth government as 'a fairytale'. She said it was like a fairytale that they received the money; they could do so many things that they wanted to do to the school. It has enhanced their program so much. That is a great thing to see happen, and, as I said, I am always honoured to do that. It is enhancing the educational opportunities for young people in Tasmania.

We have also had the opportunity in this budget to continue the flow of money to Tasmania for irrigation projects which are set to rejuvenate the farming community of Tasmania. The Whitemore scheme was opened earlier this month, with 40 kilometres of pipeline delivering about 5,500 megalitres over about 12,000 hectares. Of course, we will be going to the Midlands scheme very shortly. That will take a couple of years to get on stream as the biggest irrigation project in the electorate of Lyons, and that will revitalise and create a lot of economic activity that will enhance us into the future. This budget has been very good for Australia and very good for Tasmania, and I have a great deal of pleasure in supporting these bills through the parliament.